Patchy fall color is already being observed in and around the metro D.C. area, but some of the high elevations to the west are nearing peak conditions.

“Fall color is beginning to fill in along the Appalachian Mountain chain,”  The Foliage Network writes.  “In eastern West Virginia and western Maryland, color change is high (61% – 80% change) to peak.”

How good will the color be?

Our weather this fall has transitioned from warm and dry to warm and wet. That combination is less than ideal for bringing out the best in fall colors.

“The warmer, wetter early autumns that have become typical in the northeastern U.S. in recent years have resulted in diminished foliar displays,” Michael Day, professor for physical ecology at the University of Maine, tells AccuWeather.

But a new transition to generally cooler, sunny weather today into  next week may work out well for the vibrancy of evolving foliage.

“The best fall color for an area occurs during the shortening days of autumn when days are bright, sunny and cool, when nights are cool but not below freezing, and when there has been ideal rainfall,” notes The Blue Ridge Parkway Web site.

Average time of peak color by region. Note high elevations in these given regions will peak at the early side of the given ranges, or even a bit before. Average time of peak color by region. Note high elevations in these given regions will peak at the early side of the given ranges, or even a bit before.

There is a gradual annual migration down slope from west to east in the timing of peak foliage. We can expect the best viewing in the District around the first week of November.

For now, head west and head up. Conditions roughly one hour west of the District in Virginia and Maryland, at elevations of roughly 1,000-2,000 feet, are near peak.


Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lists multiple locations for taking in the fall color.  The following conditions were reported as of October 18:

In Allegany County, the leaves are peaking, with Washington and western Frederick counties expected to reach peak within the week. Reports from Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany indicate current conditions there are simply glorious; the maples and dogwoods have turned vibrant red, the hickories a golden yellow, and the black gums, an orangish-red… Virginia creeper winding itself around the hickories is showing up a blazing scarlet, and the oaks are just now starting to change.

The view from Sky Valley Lodge webcam in Swanton, Maryland in Garrett County, Md. as of 4:00 p.m. Wednesday (WeatherBug)


National Parks around the area have re-opened now that the Federal shutdown has ended. At Shenandoah National Park, the status of the foliage varies depending on elevation and latitude.  Here’s its latest report:

In the northern section of the park, there is still some green, especially on maple trees, and although some trees still have their leaves and are showing some lovely fall hues, many of the oaks and dogwoods and much of the rest of the leaves are past peak color.

View from Pinnacles on the Skyline Drive Friday morning (National Park Service)

In the park’s central portion, because that is where elevations are highest, fall color is past its peak as well – remember: the green of spring creeps up the mountain, but the russets, golds, oranges, and reds of autumn creep down the mountain. You will still see some vivid golds, especially on hickories and tulip trees, but most of the more electric shades – the neon reds, tangerine oranges, Merlot purples, and lime greens – are gone. Big Meadows is still very pretty – it …always is – but the color is fading…

In the southern section of Shenandoah National Park, the color is just about at peak right now. You’ll likely see a mix of trees that still have a bit of their summertime green, some that have pretty much lost their leaves, some that have turned about halfway, and some that are brilliant with color.

Even if the high peaks (Skyline Drive) in northern and central sections of Shenandoah National Park are past peak, heading slightly east and lower in elevation into the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge should take you into prime color.

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